By: Lory Walker Peroff, NBCT
I recently attended a virtual professional development on a sunny Saturday morning. I was still hungover from a rough week at school. Despite a brief moment of elation when, for the first time in four months, I had all of my students in attendance, the week was overwhelming as usual. It started with a weekend call from the principal identifying COVID cases in my class. This was followed by contact tracing, multiple absences, hastily crafted make-up work, and rushed Zoom check-ins. Whenever I thought I had caught up, another challenge was hurdled my way. And this was just my own classroom.
Also weighing heavily on my mind was that my daughters had been identified as close contacts but allowed to stay in school due to being vaccinated. What would I do if they or I became sick? Should we stay home? What if they were asymptomatic carriers and passed the virus along to our eldery neighbors or their grandparents? Unfortunately, this tsunami of worry was not unusual. It had been like this all year.
Thoroughly drained by another exhausting week, I was kind of kicking myself for choosing to spend three hours of my precious weekend at an educational training. I was half listening to the presenters while grumpily sipping my morning coffee when something another participant said caught my ear. “Teaching in the pandemic is like eating noodles without chopsticks.” she lamented. The participants all chuckled lightly and quickly moved on to the next topic. However, over the past week, my mind keeps going back to that phrase. In fact, I can’t stop thinking about it.
I have pondered what it might look like for someone to attempt eating noodles without chopsticks. It is quite interesting to think about actually. Picture someone with a delicious bowl of steaming hot noodles. Now imagine this is a person who loves noodles. She adores them. They are her favorite food. She thinks about noodles all the time. She delights in creating different preparations, experimenting with new spices and fresh vegetables. Preparing and eating noodles is an art for her, one in which she takes great pride. She has been working for years to perfect her recipes. To her, they are more than noodles, they are her life’s passion.
Now after years of dedication to her craft, building knowledge, and expertise in noodle making, her chopsticks have been revoked. For an exasperated moment she hesitates, wonders, worries how to eat her perfectly crafted noodles. Will someone step in and supply her with the tools she needs to eat the noodles? After waiting for a few hopeful moments, she realizes that no one is coming to her aid. With no small amount of swallowed pride and immense uncertainty, she plunges her face right in the bowl. It is messy, uncomfortable, and almost sad. People are watching. It is quite a spectacle. In the beginning, people hail her as brave; a hero worthy of praise and admiration. But as time continues, people become less complimentary of her actions. She is awkward, disorganized, a bit of a mess really. And heaven help if she complains about her lack of chopsticks. That really angers onlookers. If she wants to eat her noodles, she realizes that she has no choice but to continue in this disgraceful manner while bystanders judge her many missteps and struggles.
With noodles hanging off her chin, in her hair, and sprawled all over her lap, the sullied and demoralized woman continues to do what has to be done because no one is willing to step up and bring her some chopsticks. Sadly, she begins to resent something that she had once loved dearly.
To me teaching in the pandemic should not be like eating noodles without chopsticks. Teachers need to demand their chopsticks. This is imperative for the sake of our children, the future of education, and for the dignity of the teaching profession. For far too long, teachers have been expected to make the impossible possible. Administrators, policy makers, and community members need to respect that teachers need tools now more than ever. Teachers need to identify their “chopsticks” then demand them unapologetically. Whether it be small things like personal protective equipment, more autonomy, increased prep time, or adequate time to eat lunch, teachers should not be afraid to advocate for themselves and their students. Also, teachers should be empowered to ask for larger scale changes like mental health days, more computers, district wide online options, additional staff in the classroom, flexible attendance policies, new grading policies, or waivers for standardized tests. Whatever teachers need to properly perform their profession, now is the time to give it to them.
No teacher anywhere should be subjected to another day of the immense indignity of eating noodles without chopsticks. If not, don’t be surprised if next year, there are a lot less people eating noodles.